Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Road to Grid Parity may be through Route 1366

1366 Technologies (what's in a name?), a spin-off company of MIT, has received $12.4 million in seed money. The company is co-founded by Ely Sachs, the father of the string ribbon solar manufacturing process that has been the hallmark of Evergreen Solar.

1366 aims to be bring the costs of solar power down to $1 a watt (the price which many agree will make solar competitive with fossil fuel energy) by employing its light ribbon technology. The beauty of the technology is that it does so not by tinkering with the solar wafer itself, but but replacing the interconnect wire between solar panels with a grooved light-capturing ribbon strip, which as the schematic below illustrates, reflects incoming light back onto the surface of the solar cell.Apart from the light ribbon technology, 1366 is also developing "new [solar]cell architecture that uses innovative, low-cost fabrication methods"that can increase the polycrystalline efficiency by 25%. According to MIT Technology Review, 1366's design includes two other key innovations in addition to its light-capture ribbons:
The first is a method for adding texture to the surface of the cells that allows the silicon to absorb more light, a trick that's been used before with single-crystalline devices but has been difficult to implement with multicrystalline silicon. The rough surface causes light to bend as it enters the cell so that when it encounters the back of the cell, it doesn't reflect right back out; rather, it bounces off at a low angle and remains inside the slab of silicon. The longer the light remains within the silicon, the greater the chance that it will be absorbed and converted into electricity.

The second innovation involves the silver wires that harvest electrical current generated by the silicon. Sachs has developed a method for making these wires as small as one-fifth the width of the wires that are typically used, while improving their conductivity. The thinner wires use less silver, which cuts down costs. Also, because the wires are thinner, they can be spaced closer together and still block less light than ordinary wires can. The closer spacing makes the wires more efficient at collecting electrical current generated in the silicon.
The company plans to build its pilot solar cell manufacturing facility in Lexington, Massachusetts. .


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